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J Insect Physiol. 2009 Apr;55(4):297-304. doi: 10.1016/j.jinsphys.2008.12.001. Epub 2009 Jan 29.

Hydrolyzable tannins as "quantitative defenses": limited impact against Lymantria dispar caterpillars on hybrid poplar.

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  • 1Departments of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology and Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1048, USA. rvb@umich.edu


The high levels of tannins in many tree leaves are believed to cause decreased insect performance, but few controlled studies have been done. This study tested the hypothesis that higher foliar tannin levels produce higher concentrations of semiquinone radicals (from tannin oxidation) in caterpillar midguts, and that elevated levels of radicals are associated with increased oxidative stress in midgut tissues and decreased larval performance. The tannin-free leaves of hybrid poplar (Populus tremulaxP. alba) were treated with hydrolyzable tannins, producing concentrations of 0%, 7.5% or 15% dry weight, and fed to Lymantria dispar caterpillars. As expected, larvae that ingested control leaves contained no measurable semiquinone radicals in the midgut, those that ingested 7.5% hydrolyzable tannin contained low levels of semiquinone radicals, and those that ingested 15% tannin contained greatly increased levels of semiquinone radicals. Ingested hydrolyzable tannins were also partially hydrolyzed in the midgut. However, increased levels of semiquinone radicals in the midgut were not associated with oxidative stress in midgut tissues. Instead, it appears that tannin consumption was associated with increased metabolic costs, as measured by the decreased efficiency of conversion of digested matter to body mass (ECD). Decreased ECD, in turn, decreased the overall efficiency of conversion of ingested matter to body mass (ECI). Contrary to our hypothesis, L. dispar larvae were able to maintain similar growth rates across all tannin treatment levels, in part, because of compensatory feeding. We conclude that hydrolyzable tannins act as "quantitative defenses" in the sense that high levels appear to be necessary to increase levels of semiquinone radicals in the midguts of caterpillars. However, these putative resistance factors are not sufficient to decrease the performance of tannin-tolerant caterpillars such as L. dispar.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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